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Valverde wins 5th stage of Tour Down Under

Updated: January 21, 2012, 01:49


ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) Spain's Alejandro Valverde won the fifth and longest stage of the Tour Down Under on Saturday to remnain in position to race for the overall victory in his return from a two-year doping ban.

Valverde outsprinted Australia's Simon Gerrans - a stage winner on the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana - to win the 95-mile stage that finished with a climb to the summit of Old Willunga Hill.

Gerrans will wear the tour leader's ochre jersey Sunday in the final stage - a 56-mile race around a street circuit in downtown Adelaide - but there is no time difference between him and Valverde, meaning a countback might be needed to decide the winner.

Gerrans has the race lead entering the final stage because he has a lower aggregate placing than Valverde for the first five stages.

Valverde, of Spain's Movistar team, leaned across the handlebars and sobbed after winning the stage from McLaren Vale to the top of Old Willunga Hill, the first time in the race's 14-year history the stage has finished on its highest summit.

"We targeted this stage as a team because we thought it suited may abilities and that's how it worked out,'' Valverde said.

The 31-year-old Valverde was banned for two years in January 2010 after being implicated in Operation Puerto, a blood-doping ring in Spain involving more than 50 riders. He gave up the No. 1 world ranking in the process.

While he never tested positive for a banned drug, Valverde was reported to have been linked to the doping ring by DNA evidence seized in police raids in 2006.

The Tour Down Under is his first race since the ban ended and provided a reminder of his ability as he sets his sights on the Tour de France in June.

The final stage, in leafy parklands near the Torrens River and Adelaide Oval cricket ground, seldom results in a decisive breakaway and is likely to end with most of the 131 riders in the peleton on or around the same time. That would result in only the second countback in the race's history and the first since 2003.

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